Did you have a New Year’s Resolution? How is that proceeding? If you are like most people, then you probably gave up already. According to recent research, around 92% of the people who set a New Year’s resolution, fail. That means only 8% of the people actually achieve what they set out to achieve. That is a pretty pitiful statistic.
What is the reason behind the fact that most resolutions fail? You probably gave up because you didn’t have a system. Having a proper system will address many of the common mistakes that occur when people make resolutions and will serve as a way to keep you on track.
There are some common mistakes in resolution setting that keep reoccurring:
1) The goals set out in resolutions don’t follow the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-related) criteria. The goals themselves are vague and there are no milestones or even dates set.
Most people when they set goals, come up with very broad goals like “gain weight” or “lose weight”. That’s only the first step. You need to refine these goals into more specific and actionable items. You should be clear about how much weight you want to gain and by what time, or at what level you want to be able to speak a foreign language by what date. Your goals need to be specific and measurable.
2) You set up too many resolutions and don’t prioritize.
People often set too many goals for themselves and try to achieve them at the same time. Unless you have vast amounts of willpower and self-discipline, you are not going to be able to achieve all those goals. In fact, you might get so overwhelmed, that you might just drop everything and not achieve anything.
Instead, start by setting a list of priorities and work on one or two goals at a time. You can put all the other goals in your long term vision, but it is better to work on a few goals per time period. Once you have achieved these goals, or they become a routine habit, then you can start working on your other goals.
3) The resolutions are often unrealistic.
Many resolutions are extremely unrealistic. People think they can change from one day to the other, or overestimate their willpower and self-discipline. They set up goals that are too restrictive or too big of a change. Most of these people end up sliding back to their old habits.
Your goals need to be realistic. You are not going to be a muscle bound hunk overnight, but after a few months of working hard you might end up gaining some weight and muscles. People sometimes also start off by setting up diets that are too rigid and end up giving up on it, instead of starting off slowly and including cheat days.
I don’t want to discourage you from setting ambitious goals, but just for you to keep in mind that it will take a long time and a lot of hard work to achieve those goals.
Also always keep in mind what is in your control and what is outside your control. If you are 35 and short, you are not going to grow taller, so don’t set “growing taller” as your goal, but instead something more realistic.
4) Not describing the reasons of why you want to achieve those specific goals (benefits).
If you set up a goal, you need to be clear about why you want to achieve that specific goal and what benefits it will bring you. If you are not clear about the “why”, your motivation might end up wavering. Having clearly defined reasons and visualizing the potential benefits, will keep you motivated.
5) There is no plan set up on how to achieve your goals.
Even if people set realistic goals, oftentimes they don’t come up with a concrete plan on how to achieve those goals. If you want to achieve something, then you need a plan on how to go about it. Winging it ain’t gonna cut it.
6) The plan doesn’t take into account that there might be obstacles on the way.
You set up the perfect plan, but you need to keep in mind that there will be obstacles along the way. You might get injured, you might have too much work at your job. There could be myriads of other things happening. Your plan needs to be flexible enough to accommodate all these potential challenges. If you get injured, you need to take some time to heal, but then be ready to come back strong.
You need to allow for these potential long-term obstacles, but also keep in mind potential short term obstacles. When setting up a plan, you also need to include room for flexibility in it. It will be impossible to stick to your plan 100% every day and so you need to take this into account.
For example, you might have planned that every Monday after work, you will go to the gym for an hour and a half. However one Monday, you need to stay longer at work and cannot go to the gym. You should be flexible enough to move your gym session to Tuesday or some other day, or have some other contingency plan.
7) The plan is not set up in such a way as to be able to change it up quickly and continuously improve the process.
If something doesn’t work then change it. I often see guys at the gym doing their own little shitty routine, and even if they have been regularly going to the gym for years, they still remain their own little puny selves. They don’t tweak their routine, they don’t learn from mistakes, they don’t acquire any experience. The process of achieving your goal needs to be agile and you always need to be working on improving the process.
8) There is no sense of accountability for the goals.
Oftentimes, a good way to keep yourself motivated is to let other people know that you are trying to achieve a goal. They will motivate you and cheer you on. If you find other people that are working on the same goal, that’s even better. However just getting your goal out there among other people is a good way to keep yourself accountable.
9) Not tracking your progress.
You should always be tracking your progress. Studies show that people who track their progress are more likely to achieve their goals. Whether it is by keeping a journal or having an elaborate app, tracking your progress can be a good way to see the results you have gotten and also to keep in mind what else you need to do.
10) Not having the willpower and self-discipline to carry things through.
We live in an instant gratification society, and most people lack the willpower and self-discipline to carry things through. They have no willpower to persevere and not give up. Willpower is like a muscle and needs to be trained. The good news is that the more you train your willpower, the bigger your reserve gets, which will help you achieve more and more things.
You should always be striving to change routines into positive habits. That way you will use up less willpower and instead conserve it for other things. You will then have it ready whenever you need an extra push and be able to pull through when you need it most.
11) Not setting up a proper environment.
In order to keep yourself from straying, you need to set up a proper environment around you. If your diet is important, stock up your fridge with healthy things like fish, milk and vegetables, instead of ice cream and frozen pizza. So then whenever you get a craving and open up your fridge, you will always be forced to grab something healthy.
Also work on creating triggers for your habits. For example, if you want to go to the gym after work, bring your gym clothes to work and go to the gym straight after work, instead of going home. Oftentimes if you make it home, you won’t want to go out again.
A big part of the environment around you are the people you surround yourself with. If they are negative people who like to complain and don’t actually try to do anything about their problems, then that can have a negative impact on you. On the other hand, if you hang out with positive people, then that can have a positive impact on you and your mindset.
12) Not charting out which other factors might have an effect on your wellbeing.
You also need to chart out some potential long-term problems that might affect your well-being, for example depression or problems at work. These are constant drains on your willpower, but if you take them into account when setting up your plan, you can figure out ways to work around them.
You see why it is so easy not to achieve your goal and why most people fail? Any of these reasons could be behind your failure. The list is also regressive, with the top one being the most important reason, while the other ones follow the reasons on top.
If you don’t set up SMART goals, then you are likely to fail right off the bat. Even if you set up SMART goals, but set up unrealistic goals, you are likely to fail. And even if you set up realistic goals, but don’t have a plan, you will also likely fail at some point.
Reflect on how you usually set up your goals and how often you succeed and fail. Then try to examine which types of mistakes you made, and which ones caused you to fail.
These common mistakes can be rectified by having a proper system in place that will help you set goals and carry out everything necessary to achieve them.
At the end of last year, I was in a training on agile software development (a method called SCRUM). Sitting there, looking at the instructor, I realized that the method he was describing is not only good for the development of software, but can be adopted as a good framework in your personal life. It can serve as an awesome system for self-improvement.
This is actually another good lesson for you to carry away. Always be on the lookout for ideas. Always be thinking. You never know what might inspire you to come up with a genius moment. One day Archimedes was trying to take a bath, but when he dipped into the bathtub, some of the water spilled out of it. Things suddenly clicked in his head. That was his moment of genius: “Eureka!” He realized that the volume of water displaced is equal to the volume of the part of his body that was submerged.
You never know when you will have your own “Eureka” moment. Mine came when sitting in a training on software development. Yours can come anywhere, anytime too. You just need to be attentive and be able to make connections between disparate things.
The system of self-development based on the SCRUM framework, is an agile method of self-improvement, where you are continuously improving not only yourself, but also the process itself.
There are five levels of planning: vision, roadmap, release, sprint, daily. In the vision, you develop your overall vision of where you want to be. Then you break this down to subgoals, through the use of what is called user stories.
The main period of planning and the subsequent execution of the plan is called the sprint. This is basically a month period, where you plan out all the activities that you will do in order to reach your goals.
Once you have this plan, you are in the execution phase. In this phase, at the beginning of each day you do a small 15 minute reflection and planning session for the day.
Once the monthly sprint is finished, you should sit down and think about the lessons learnt and how you can improve the process itself. Maybe instead of working out in the morning, it would be better to work out after work? Maybe instead of making your food every day, you make it once on Sunday for the entire week and then hold it in the fridge? Once you have all this down, you can start another sprint, or monthly period of self-improvement.
The system is not for everyone. Most people have the attention span of a blonde Valley girl with ADD and they lack the discipline to carry anything out. So unless they change their attitudes, they will never be able to achieve any of the goals they set out.
However most of those people have given up reading this post already, so if you have made it so far, I trust that you you have some sort of discipline or at least the determination to change.
Depending on what your internal make-up is, you can set up the system in many different ways. The rolling out of any type of complex system is very tough and so should be done in phases. You might start off with just setting up a vision and some SMART goals and priorities. Once you have this part taken care of, after a certain period of time, you might adopt other parts of the system, for example making a more detailed plan or creating a way of tracking your progress in more detail.
You might even realize that you don’t actually need the entire system, but instead just parts of it. You can change up the entire framework in any way you want. After all, it is designed to be improved and through trial and error, you should find whatever works the best for you.
As some of you may know, at the end of last year, I set out a little challenge, where I set out two main goals for myself: working in the gym on gaining weight and muscle and also a language learning goal (Dutch and French).
Results: On the fitness goal, despite setbacks, I succeeded. I ended up gaining around 5 kilograms to reach my highest weight ever. My routine was based around deadlifts and pullups.
Unfortunately, during the period, I kind of injured my shoulder. Due to my past history of playing sports, a current history of sitting on my ass all day at work, and my hypermobility syndrome, my body has a lot of imbalances and that manifests itself in frequent injuries.
Due to the injury, I had to tweak my routine a bit, take out the pullups and anything else that was hurting my shoulder and instead make my routine even more focused around deadlifts. Even though it’s been more than a year since my ACL surgery, I still don’t feel 100% in my operated knee, so that is a problem as well.
When starting out in fitness, I didn’t do the deadlift at all, but now due to my experiences, I feel it is the king of exercises. You have to watch out though and really pay attention to your form (especially at higher weights), since one little slipup and you could get injured badly.
On the language learning front, it was a disaster. I did study sometimes here or there, but did not develop any kind of routine and even stopped going to my Dutch class, due to feeling really tired after work on Thursdays.
However I did pick up a new unplanned habit, that of reading a lot more books. Since I am working on my blog, I have started reading intensively about all kinds of different efforts, which takes up a lot of time and effort. However the positive benefit is that I have learned a lot as well.
During this challenge, I learned a lot about willpower first hand. I had been reading books on willpower and this gave me the theoretical background to try to observe what is happening with my willpower in practice.
I have a stronger willpower and self-discipline than most people, but these two could still use some improvement. Willpower is a finite resource and can get depleted really easily. This is one of the biggest factors on your day to day execution of your plan.
Lessons learnt: I don’t need to use too much willpower in routines that I have greater motivation in and in which I have already formed some positive habits. For example, going to the gym and working out is a habit now, which takes little effort to do.
I have set up some habit triggers to make this habit automatic. I bring my gym clothes to work and instead of going back home after work, I go straight to the gym. This is a way to stay consistent and sustain the habit, because if I went home first, most likely there would be a high danger of me not making it out of the house to the gym.
I have also learned that outside forces have a great impact on your motivation and willpower. Due to some circumstances, I suffer from depression and during periods of bad luck, this state can be even heightened.
This was probably the main reason why I failed in my language learning routine. The depression depleted my willpower and I lost motivation to force myself to study. Interestingly, this depression does not have such a high effect on my fitness routine. It does affect me sometimes, so that even when I make it to the gym, I am not motivated to do anything, however I sustain the habit of going to the gym, even if at times I don’t do much exercising there. This keeps the habit alive.
I have also formed a strong motivation for going to the gym. I have developed high focus and drive towards achieving my goal and so the gym has started to serve as my sanctuary from the world outside. In the gym, I am the master of my fate.
I am slowly starting to adopt the system. I begin my days by reflecting what I want to achieve during that day and that gives me a clear focus and drive during each day. This has resulted in me staying more consistent and achieving my goals. This year I plan to once again work on the same two goals from my challenge, as well as roll out some more goals.
The system you can adopt to help you achieve your goals:
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